The 2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom is a no frills stripped-down version of the Touring with maximized handling capabilities.The big 1380cc V90 stomps out more than 86 ft. lbs. of torque at 2,500 rpm and 96 horsepower 6,500 rpm, making this is a proper performance cruiser. During the launch in Barcelona this week, each red light meant a drag race was on!Compared to the California Touring, the Custom is a much tighter and better handling beast. First of all, te Custom has shed a whopping 49 lbs. from losing its wind screen and assembly up front, and bags out back. Particularly the front feels very solid on the Custom due to a new drag handlebar.The 740mm seat height is still on the comfortable side, but obviously less so for the pillion as the “sport” seat follows the lines of the rear fender. The riding position is still a conservative fairly upright position with a slight inkling forward. Moto Guzzi could have gone a bit further and made the riding position even more aggressive without hurting the rider’s comfort levels much. The same big comfy footboards from the Touring are also in place for the Custom.The double rear suspension is new and raised for a more front biased ride compared to the Touring. The California Custom front end with its massive 46mm fork and double Brembo radial calipers is possibly the best front end on any cruiser or custom bike. It feels plush and tight at the same time, and extremely sure footed for this type of motorcycle.If you like your motorcycle to handle well, Moto Guzzi has gone for the overkill with the California Custom. The bike is several notches better than the Touring and rock solid. If the Moto Guzzi California Custom doesn’t feature the best fork and brakes in its segment, I’d be surprised.While at many light crossings in Barcelona, horns started growing on my crash helmet. Dumping the clutch in first, there’s instant drive and a massive drive forward. But it happened to be wet on the first morning of testing in Barcelona. And despite the massive 200mm Dunlop D251 rear tire providing lots of grip, the traction control came in handy.I must admit that traction control on a cruiser isn’t what I’m usually looking for, but on this morning it was brilliant and added peace of mind. I had the traction control set to level 2 and engine map to Pioggia (Rain). With these settings, you can then keep a the throttle fully opened over wet white lines and manhole covers without worry.The Pioggia engine map is also comfortable for easy cruising when you don’t need a full rush of power. Being the technological marvel that it is, the Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom features ABS brakes , allowing the the 661-lbs. bulk to be stopped in no time on both dry and wet surfaces.For the dry part of my test it’s an easy switch using the starter button to go from the Pioggia to Turismo or Veloce engine maps. Lowering the traction control setting to level 1 is more of an operation as you need to go into the menu buttons while standing still. In level 1 the traction control allows a fair amount of rear wheel slip, which is always fun.I was actually lucky enough to get two full days worth of riding, which was good as the first day almost rained away. On my second day, I switched between the Custom and the Touring and we went up into the mountains surrounding Barcelona for some cornering. Here the Custom really excels over the Touring as the raised rear suspension provides better ground clearance and the lighter weight and better front end provides a much sportier ride.On the cold motorway leaving Barcelona in the morning, I found myself on the Custom wishing I was on the Touring with its wind screen. The longitudinal trademark Moto Guzzi V90 provided a bit of shelter and warmth to my legs, which turned the situation on its head from the last time I was on the California Touring in fairly hot weather. Now I cherished the extra heat dissipation that I criticized in the heat.You could call it bad luck, but this time none of the bikes were fitted with the optional heated grips, which I would have loved to have on this ride. I don’t know whether it’s because of the different bars or riding position, but the Custom has better mirrors, though the Touring should win that bout.The choice between the Custom and the Touring should be a practical one, but the enthusiast in me goes for the Custom because of the fantastic handling and plush ride everywhere but on the motorway where it’s Touring all the way. The Custom is also faster because of the lighter weight and hence a bit more fun around town, and a lot more fun in the mountains.The Custom’s front end feels like it belongs to a completely different bike despite having the same components. It’s all about the raised rear ride height and the shed of weight over the front.Back in town again the Custom is king. The clutch is light and the turning radius is brilliant for such a big motorcycle. Balance is very near to perfection and I could roll to a complete standstill and be still for a bit before putting a leg down. Moto Guzzi really has gone for handling perfection with the Custom. I really like this but can’t help but thinking that Guzzi has missed out on a trick where they could have gone more extreme in a few areas such as the riding position, creating an uber cool city poser Harley-Davidson style.But that’s not quite the Italian style, and if it’s something they are afraid of its people complaining about handling and brakes. Hence a brilliant motorcycle but very ready for the custom shop should one wish for a more controversial and personalized style. Ape hangers would look great on the Custom!In terms of finish, the fuel tank cut outs are great, but both the front and rear fenders are made of plastic – not cool at all. The LED lighting (both front and back) creates a very distinct styling, and the Custom looks great at night cruising through the city. The double chromed exhaust looks great and on the Custom you can see that big 200mm rear tire in all its glory. The wheels have Moto Guzzi painted in red on them and they look the business. But as with all Moto Guzzi motorcycles, it is of course the prominent V90 that is the main attraction, and the Custom looks particularly muscular.2013 Moto Guzzi 1400 Custom Conclusion:The California Custom is something new from Moto Guzzi and delivers a very impressive package. Traction control, ABS, Ride by Wire are all great functional electronics that you’ll learn to depend on.I’m disappointed, however, in the plastic mudguards, which put it down a notch compared to American cruisers. This would have been such an easy decision in the developing process. Who wants to repaint plastic mudguards in the custom shop? On the Touring version this isn’t really an issue because it is something historic that should stay the way it was meant to be. But the Custom should have iron.The handling is fantastic and, as stated previously, I believe the California Custom has the best front end in the business. The radial Brembo brakes are nothing less than fantastic. The low seat height with a comfy seat and an easy to reach drag bar is great stuff. On the motorway the Custom obviously suffers compared to the Touring, especially on a cold day. But on a warm day, the Custom should provide much comfort with plenty of wind in your face. Moto Guzzi has created yet another great motorcycle with the Custom, and now all we have to do is to wait for people to start customizing them properly. I can’t wait to see the results.2013 Moto Guzzi 1400 Custom Positives/Negatives:Positives: + Handling and brakes + Lighter than the Touring = more power! + Top quality electronics that really helps a rider when neededNegatives: – Plastic parts reduces the finish on a fine motorcyclePhotography: Milagro
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.